How law firms should harness employees' expertise

Here's how to nurture and retain law firm employees

Given the nature of the legal sector, and the influx of millennial employees into the workplace, law firms must evolve their business models and how they treat law firm employees in order to remain competitive. Here's how law firms can nurture individual talent, improve employee expertise and prevent defections to more engaged and attentive competitors.

Make talent management a priority

Successful law firms demonstrate an unwavering commitment to client service. However, it shouldn't come at the expense of talent management. In addition to delivering superior client service, senior law firm leadership should set aside time to nurture the firm's junior and senior associates.

To ensure employee growth and development, create quantitative goals for your firm's leadership to achieve, such as the performance of a certain number of mentoring sessions per year. Additional quantitative goals might include the number of associates mentored by a senior partner who receive promotions, or the associates who possess a detailed understanding of the firm's services as proven by their ability to cross-sell services to existing clients.

Revisit your approach to engagement staffing

Many firms leave work allocation to senior partners. However, in doing so, partners may gravitate to certain associates, leaving others under utilized or assigned to more mundane matters.

Make sure the mechanism exists to distribute work fairly among junior and senior associates. Some firms create an engagement staffing partner to ensure the optimal allocation of the firm's talent.

Another way to detect favoritism involves monitoring the number of cases assigned by each partner to individual associates. If an associate receives most of their work from one or two of the firm's senior partners, it might make sense to revisit how senior partners assign their engagements.

Plan strategically

While under pressure by clients to address their needs, many law firms tend to overlook the need for long-term strategic planning, especially as it relates to nurturing the next generation of leaders.

Without a strategic plan, many firms find themselves mired in the day-to-day challenges of running a firm. Consequently, they lose sight of the firm's direction and ability to meet its long-term talent goals.

Set aside time on a quarterly or biannual basis to discuss the firm's pool of talent and how to nurture it to support the long-term objectives of the firm. For example, the executive team may determine that several associates on the partner track lack exposure to certain critical areas of the law, which could hinder their progression within the firm.

Nurture your firm's networks

Solving complex legal problems can sometimes require the firm's collective wisdom, but working on client matters can inadvertently isolate individual attorneys and their teams from the rest of the firm. To counteract this problem, make an effort to expose your top talent to a broad range of engagements. To do so, some firms implement a shadowing program while others adopt a less formal approach by encouraging attorneys to observe key meetings relating to their colleagues' cases.

Take your millennial employees into account

Countless studies, including a survey by GALLUP on the American workplace, indicate that millennials thrive when their work has meaning. Therefore, your firm cannot rely solely on monetary rewards to motivate millennials.

Instead, expose younger generations in the firm to the "bigger picture" as it relates to the firm's overall purpose and the engagements it chooses to accept. Make it easy for them to connect with the firm's purpose and envision their role in helping the firm realize its goals. Consider the type of work your firm accepts. Generally, millennials will welcome your firm's pursuit of socially responsible firms, while rejecting others that cross ethical or moral lines.

Engaging law firm employees and making sure they grow along with the firm requires a multipronged approach. Cultivating employee expertise can help your team develop innovative solutions while ensuring better retention rates.

The views expressed in the article are those of the author and/or person interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the views of Silicon Valley Bank, a division of First-Citizens Bank and First Citizens BancShares, Inc. The materials on this website are for informational purposes only, are subject to change and do not take into account your particular investment objective, financial situation or need. Since each client’s situation is unique, you should consult your financial advisor and/or tax planning professional before acting on any information provided herein.